It’s been an exciting week for Harley-Davidson, with the Milwaukee company announcing all kinds of very big projects for the not-too-distant future, but it appears there’s even more to come. According to Ye Olde Internette Rumor Mill, Harley is developing an emergency braking system that would autonomously apply the whoa if a rider isn’t paying close enough attention.
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Such systems are becoming evermore commonplace in cars, of course, but the technology has yet to make it to bikes in part because of the technical/design challenges (adding yet more stuff to a bike means trying to find a place to put it) and concerns related to the unique nature of motorcycling. For example, it can sometimes be the case that swerving on a motorcycle is a preferred solution to a handful of brake. Equally, a bike that stops/slows itself has the potential to upset a rider’s balance, thereby potentially creating new problems.
But as the boys in the London sewers say: there are no such things as problems, only solution opportunities. A number of other companies have been working on such systems, or technology that behaves similarly. KTM, for example, is developing adaptive cruise control. Ducati is also working on radar-equipped bikes, and Honda has been toying with the idea so long that many were surprised the feature was not made a part of the overhauled Gold Wing.
According to Motorcycle.com, which broke the story, Harley has applied for a patent on a a system that uses various sensors to identify potential road hazards, like, say, a bison, or a car, sending all this information to an internal controller that tries to determine whether you’ve also seen the hazard. If it’s pretty sure you haven’t, it will apply the brakes, kill the throttle and effectively pull the clutch to prevent your imminent demise.
It’s that element of determining your attentiveness that seems to be unique to the Harley system. According to MO, the bike will also have sensors aimed at determining your alertness – checking everything from body position and foot/hand placement to where your eyes are pointing (somewhere there is a Bikers for Trump conspiracy theorist whose head just exploded at the thought of a motorcycle that can look into his eyes and read his thoughts, man). It’s pretty high-tech stuff.
If you have become highway hypnotized, the system will first try to bring you back to the present with flashing lights on the dash and a quick pulse of the brakes. If you remain with the fairies the bike will do its best to prevent you both from ending up like this:
MO learned all this through a patent application, so there’s no sense of timeline. Certainly it seems that such complicated tech will arrive later than sooner, and will almost certainly be initially confined to high-end touring models like the CVO Limited.
I’ll admit my old man side looks at such technology and thinks: “Great, another thing that can go wrong.”
But give it a second thought and it’s not hard to see how valuable this sort of thing could be – especially for big touring bikes designed to cross continents. If you’ve ridden long distances you will be able to relate to that one time when, oops, you really should have been paying more attention. Some of us luck out, but others don’t; a system like this would definitely save lives.